Re-Engineering the Process Improvement Learning Process in Companies | Part 3

Part 2 of this blog trilogy identified the main obstacles to learning related to process improvement. To put it short, the challenge related to process improvement learning is to solve the average individual dilemma properly. To put this also in the right context one should first understand the rationale of education and training. The main purpose of education and training is to change the individual’s behavior in the desired way. Behavior is what the individual says or does (or does not say or do). Education and training provide the main momentum in this regard (primary means), whereas other means are of supportive nature (secondary means). Of all stakeholders, the company has a directorate only regarding the staff. Satisfying the needs of the customers, owners, creditors, and environment happens in the end always through processes (the company’s activities or operations). A process, on the other hand, is by definition the interaction of 1) people, 2) technology, 3) information and 4) material (substance) to produce a certain output (product and/or service). How well a process interacts regarding the four process components can be depicted via its real-life performance (time, quality and costs). Process improvement means thus improving this interaction so that the process performance improves in terms of time, quality and costs. Going forward, high-performance process improvement means consequently that the improvement of this interaction should be done properly, in a fast and cost-effective way. Making a process leaner does not necessarily mean that the interaction of the four process components has improved, or that the the improvement work itself has has been performed well. This hidden performance potential is likely never disclosed, and may thus never be realized. You cannot miss something you don’t know, but nevertheless this should be a big concern for at least the owners and top management of the company. Therefore it is utterly important that also the process improvement education and training are done properly from the outset, and that this understanding is continuously utilized and updated in real-life.

The education and training effort can be supported by different means that have a desired impact on either the wanted or the unwanted behavior. One of the most common approaches to increase a wanted behavior, or reduce an unwanted behavior, is providing feedback that may even be based on a performance measurement. However, in many cases feedback is used more or less as the primary means to change an individual’s, and in the end, an organization’s behavior. Although effective to a certain point, this approach to process improvement realizes only a fraction of the real potential of process improvement as feedback should only be applied as a secondary means. The slogan “you get what you measure” should therefore be rephrased to “you get partly what you measure”. Certainly, running a secondary means as a primary means is far from high-performance process improvement. Considerable amounts of money are lost every year for this reason. Hopefully your company has managed this pitfall properly.

From the above it is easy to see that re-engineering the process improvement learning process in companies has to solve the average individual dilemma and contain both primary and secondary means to support a behavior change in the desired direction. This means that the solution has to contain both theoretical education and practical training related to the substance of process improvement. Besides, the solution has to have a feedback component. Besides these general outlines, one has to consider also the amount of time that can be allocated to improvement efforts overall. A good rule of thumb is that at most 4% of the effective working time can be allocated in the long run to improvement efforts annually. In practice, the time budget is thus about 10 working days annually covering both the process analysis and synthesis, the required process improvement education and training, and the implementation and follow-up.

The Main Issues to Consider When Solving and Going Beyond the Average Individual Dilemma

The individual is in the driver’s seat regarding process improvement learning, but being in the driver’s seat does not mean that you want to drive, or can drive the car. So, just solving the average individual dilemma is not enough. A working solution has to be backed-up with more intelligence. Otherwise the real-life results will not show, at least not in terms of high-performance process improvement. Not running the improvement efforts at a high performance level causes most likely losses both in terms of money and time, besides likely less satisfied stakeholders.

In practice the main solution to solve the average individual dilemma has to be digital due to the obstacles discussed in Part 1 and 2. Here, it is sufficient that all crucial issues have been and can be reasonably well solved if you know how the solution works. The requirement “if you know how the solution works” makes it possible to reduce the required human tutorial interaction to explaining the functionalities of the solution whereas the core learning “payload” is managed by the solution. Learning the functionalities of a solution is much less subject to the average individual dilemma as the process improvement learning itself. These issues relate to the “cannot drive the car” issue above. But what about “do not want to drive” issue?

The “do not want to drive” issue has two dimensions:

  1. Are the education and training efforts related to relevant problems?
  2. Is the individual receptive to learning and applying new things?

The first consideration relates to the improvement effectiveness (improving the right issues). If the individual does not feel that the improvement education and training effort relates to a real and relevant problem it is much harder to find the sufficient motivation for learning. Here, employees, managers and executives have different views what the relevant problems may be, besides the views of other crucial stakeholders (customers, owners). The best way to overcome this motivational obstacle at different organizational levels is to conduct a high-class process analysis and synthesis (e.g. VISTALIZER Report) that merges all relevant process improvement considerations to a coherent whole. Based on the process improvement analysis and synthesis an education and training plan can be prepared for the purpose of taking a decision to manage the learning effort properly, and to evaluate resource requirements.

If the first consideration has been sufficiently addressed then the second consideration becomes increasingly relevant. From a process improvement point of view the second consideration can be properly managed as part of the substance related to management of organizational change. Even if the receptiveness to learning and applying new things would generally be on a good level, attention to this consideration should be paid, as the level may not be that on an individual level, which may cause specific challenges if e.g. a specific individual is an opinion leader that impose a formal or informal influence on other persons behavior, including the top management.

The Solution – VISTALIZER for Enterprises 3.3 (US)

The solution complying with the issues discussed in this blog (Parts 1-3) is the iOS/iPadOS/Android app VISTALIZER for Enterprises 3.3 (Figure 2). Let’s study how it deals with the obstacles to learning discussed previously, bit by bit.

Figure 2: The main interface of the app VISTALIZER for Enterprises 3.3 (US). The screenshot is one of the app’s tablet views (portrait mode).

Dealing Properly with the Average Individual Dilemma

The average individual dilemma can be properly solved by creating a solution that considers and delivers individual learning paths based on five different wholes:

1. Organizational level of the learner (selections: employee, manager, executive/director).

2. Current improvement knowledge level (selections: low, medium, high).

3. Resistance to learning or change (selection: low, medium, high).

4. Preferred learning logic (selections: chronological, intuition, in team or group).

5. Learning quality assurance level (selections: light, medium, high)

By making selections regarding these five areas, it is possible to overcome the average individual dilemma sufficiently well. An example of a selection is provided in Figure 3. This view is available e.g. by tapping the app’s red “Proposed Learning Paths” button in Figure 2. Areas 1-3 are self-explanatory, whereas the selections related to the fourth and fifth areas, i.e. the Preferred Learning Logic and the Learning Quality Assurance Level may require some reflection.

Figure 3: The “Proposed Learning Path” feature customizes the learning process at the individual level (tablet view).

The traditional way of learning is familiar from books or lectures i.e. following the table of contents, or going from contents A to contents B and then to contents C. Such an advancement is also familiar from many games that advances in a “tube”. What this means is that the storyline follows a linear or chronological order as opposite to a non-linear or intuition based learning where the learner can freely jump from one consideration to the other without a predefined order. Between these approaches is also a hybrid logic i.e. a linear learning approach with features of non-linear learning features. The app VISTALIZER for Enterprises 3.3 (US) utilizes also this hybrid logic within the linear learning logic. An example is the learning module Philosophy and Basics (see the icon in Figure 3 with the wrench). This learning module is interesting in that sense that it can be run as an education module (the light grey area) or training module (the dark grey area), using either a linear (the orange area) or non-linear learning (the green area) logic. This kind of flexibility is important as the substance, i.e. the improvement philosophy and basics, is many times the catalyst and kick-starter needed in the beginning of the improvement efforts, or when sustaining or increasing the ambition level.

Figure 4: an example of a non-linear learning concept embedded into a linear learning module (tablet view).

Other examples of an applied hybrid logic include the Mentored Areas feature which deals with the the concept of a company vision and how to implement it (Figure 4), and the Mini-Analogy feature that considers the concept of a high-class process analysis and synthesis (Figure 5). These two examples are logically part of the linear education module.

Figure 5: an example of a non-linear learning concept embedded into a linear learning module (one of the app’s phone views in portrait mode).

In team or group learning is interesting in that sense that it allows the utilization of different sets of learning logics depending on the team’s or group’s learning objectives. Here it is important to understand that a team or a group may have a common learning objective that can be dealt with on the team or group level, as opposite to the learning objectives on the individual learning level. The learning objective may be e.g. learning how the organization works, identifying improvement objects, identifying and discussing the thoughts and considerations of other team or group members, or dealing with change resistance. These issues are not directly related to learning the improvement philosophy, approaches (systems) and tools, but may nevertheless be very important for the organization and future improvement efforts.

The area Learning Quality Assurance Level provides the means to get the required feedback related to the quality of the learning. Here different individuals can have different needs depending on ongoing and future improvement efforts, and the current and desired ambition levels. The quality assurance level may take the shape of qualifications, a peer review, knowledge checks, tests, and an external review and feedback. These concepts provides the required and sufficient means to provide the needed quality assurance level at the individual level, even in real-time depending on the quality assurance concept applied.

Each learning path can be assigned a learning path code that can be integrated e.g. into a person specific education and training plan, and distributed instantly to the individual learner orally or by digital means. This code can be updated in real-time as the improvement efforts advances, and depending on the individual learning needs. Also individual learners can generate their own learning paths according to their needs, and e.g. recommend that code for a specific colleague or employee. The code can even contain a “marker” that highlights a certain learning module. Based on the learning path code, it is also possible to build a chain of learning path codes for each individual outlining e.g. the proposed path to a higher ambition level.

Timewise the app complies with the time considerations related to high-performance process improvement for all possible proposed learning paths. Especially the non-linear learning logic applied to the process improvement learning provides the means to increase the learning speed without sacrificing the quality of the learning. This approach provides also a solid concept to increase the ambition level of the learning as things advance, which has a direct link to the ambition level of the real-life improvement work (implementation).

The Benefits of Re-Engineering the Process Improvement Learning Process

Re-engineering the process improvement learning process as outlined above brings multiple benefits to the company. The largest benefit is the financial outcome as an effective and efficient learning process makes it possible to realize the company’s improvement potential sooner, target higher ambition levels with improved offerings, and get an increased process performance. Another big financial outcome is the decreased cost related to the education and training efforts as many crucial areas or issues related to process improvement education and training can be automated, or delivered digitally at a sufficient and required quality level. This is an important aspect as it is astonishing how fast the process improvement knowledge and skills deteriorate in real-life, which leads to improvement inefficiencies. Even keeping the acquired process improvement knowledge and skills at the same level requires constant efforts. Often companies are not fully aware of the magnitude of process improvement knowledge and skills required for the staff to be able to really solve relevant problems effectively and efficiently. This becomes evident at the latest when the improvement work stops or declines at the first setbacks that are part of most improvement efforts.

The beauty of the solution is the fact that although being a standard solution that can be deployed easily within an organization also as a private app using Apple Business Manager (iOS/iPadOS) or Managed Google Play (Android), it provides a customized learning path and outcome for each user (individual), independent from time and place. You can start using it “out of the box”, and configure the application of the app in seconds using the Proposed Learning Path feature, either by yourself (applies to the free version of the app) or by submitting a learning path especially defined for you (applies only to a paid subscription or private app). Both the onboarding process (“no questions asked”) and the subscription process (four options that only differ in length and price level; a subscription may be paused, or easily cancelled) of the app have been designed to deliver a smooth user experience.

You can also furthermore scale up the benefits by applying the VISTALIZER Report solution, which is a high-class process study to assure the improvement effectiveness for a specific process, and partly also the company. Here key processes to improve include the order-delivery process, the research and development process, the marketing process, and the sales process. In (very) large and/or complex processes it is also possible to improve a part of a process. With this approach you can build and implement, brick by brick, a high-performance process improvement system (process) delivering constantly a high process improvement yield.

How Can I Test the Solution?

You can easily test the Proposed Learning Path feature by installing the VISTALIZER for Enterprises app available at the App Store (iOS/iPadOS 13 onwards) or Google Play (Android phones and tablets with Android 9 onwards). The app’s website is available at VISTALIZER.com.

Post script: the app VISTALIZER for Enterprises has been updated since version 3.3 with new features.

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